Saturday, November 18, 2006

My handbrake's not so lekker...

Rest easy, legion of blog fans, Tonka the Series III Land Rover's gear stick (or gear lever, I've discovered they're referred to in South Africa) has been repaired, sort of.
 
Dr Roland, the Land Rover surgeon finally made it out into the wilds of the Kruger Park (I exaggerate slightly here, as we're only 40km from White River, where the doctor has his practice.  He came in his sleek, white long wheelbase Land Rover Defender bakkie (Afrikaans for ute.  NB: non-Australian readers, ute is short for utility vehicle or 'pick-up'). 
 
Nifftily, Roland has converted his alternator into a welder so with one lead attached to it, and the other earthed to his bumper bar he set about re-attaching the gear stick (sorry, lever) to the eight millimetre stub which remained.  First, he complimented me on my improvised gear lever, a shifting spanner (an improvement on the multi-grips mentioned in an earlier instalment, as dedicated fans will recognise).
 
Things seemed to be going so well that I went off to fill the jug at the tap in the Pretoriuskop camp ground with good intentions of the doctor, myself and Mrs Blog (sorry, Rebecca, it stays) have a celebratory cuppa.
 
I'd hardly turned the tap on when Mrs B came running across flapping her small but perfectly arms.  "Quickly, quickly!" she yelled.
 
I was filling the jug as fast as I could. I know the doctor is a busy many (with a questionable sense of time management) but I couldn't see the urgency.
 
She gesticulated at Roland and I, too was speechless for a moment.  His shiny Defender had rolled forward and had pinned him between the front passenger side of little Tonka and his own vehicle's bumper bar.  The doctor was most certainly not speechless.  "The bakkie is squashing me," he said, though he was quite casual about this.
 
I had nightmarish instant visions of medical evacuation helicopters, a mechanic rendered legless for life and, worse, us being stuck indefinitely in Pretoriuskop with only a shifting spanner for a gear stick... lever... whatever.
 
"Push!" he ordered, galvanising me into action.  I got between the two Land Rovers and together we nudged the bigger truck back.  Mrs B chocked the wheels with a brick - something which, in hindsight, we should have done in the first place.
 
The doctor was remarkably calm and waved off the rapidly appearing bruises on the back of his legs.  He continued welding and swearing and welding and swearing until, at last the gear lever was reattached.
 
"My handbrake's not so lekker (good)," he said calmly, by way of explanation over a cup of tea once the job was done.
 
Despite fifty years of designing and manufacturing rugged 4x4 vehicles that will outlive most of their owners, Land Rover has still not been able to design:
 
- a gear lever for the Series III with a girth wider or stronger than a bic biro (incidentally, more of these Land Rovers were built than any other model before or since - about a million worldwide)
- a hand brake that works, or
- a windscreen that doesn't leak on the driver's side, thereby allowing a stream of rainwater to travel down the inside of the dash, then on to the top of the accelerator pedal so that it cascades off and runs between the driver's foot and sandal.
 
On the bright side, the resident mechanic at Skukuza, Kruger's main camp, told me on the phone before the doctor arrived that he would not even attempt to weld on a gear lever as the heat would surely seize-up the gears. 
 
"He doesn't know Land Rovers," said the doctor said in rebuttal.
 
So, despite all their faults, the gear stick/lever yet again shows why we wouldn't dream of driving anything else in Africa.

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